I spent Thursday at Our Lady of Malibu. Here is what we talked about:
4th Grade – A Different Slant on Tobacco
I spoke with the 4th graders about the difference between facts and opinions, and the difference between reporting and advertising. We read a couple of stories together as a class; the first was about a fictional report about a new advertising campaign from a tobacco company, and the second was a fictional report from doctors about the negative consequences of using chewing tobacco. We talked about why its important to be able to value opinions differently; is an advertisement telling us the whole truth or just saying the “good stuff”? Why should we value a doctors opinion on health over the opinions of a tobacco advertisement?
Also, as entertainment, advertising and news seem to be merging more and more every year, its important that our kids learn to decipher facts from opinions in all the media they are taking in. Why should we value an experts opinion more than a blog entry? What should hold more weight: the recommendation of your family doctor, or the entry you just read on WebMD? Its great to be informed, but an article we read on the internet probably shouldn’t trump the expertise of someone that has spent years studying the issue in question.
5th Grade – The Team Game
In the 5th grade, we spent our time talking about drugs in general and tobacco specifically.
I started by explaining to the kids not think of drugs as good or bad. Drugs are just inanimate chemicals that affect our minds and bodies in a variety of ways. The good or bad comes from why a person chooses to use a drug. The laws and attitudes surrounding drugs are constantly changing, but every time a person uses a drug for any reason there is a risk involved. Especially for kids that are still growing and developing, the only time they should be using a drug is with the approval of their parents and/or under the care of a doctor. Any drug use outside of that is likely something they should not be doing.
After that introduction, I turned the discussion towards tobacco. Five students from each class performed a skit called “The Team Game” which stated numerous facts about the hazards of smoking and chewing tobacco. Highlights included:
- identifying chewing tobacco (spit and dip), cigarettes and cigars
- the long term and short term effects of chewing tobacco (tooth and gum problems, mouth cancer, addiction, etc)
- the long term and short term effects of smoking (emphysema, lung cancer, stained teeth and fingernails, smoke stench, addiction, etc).
- legal age and increased risk of smoking or chewing as a youth
I finished the lecture with a few visual aids of the effects of smoking on lungs. First, there is the bottle of tar that shows the amount of gunk that will pass through an every day smoker’s lungs over the course of a year.Then I have a board with plaster models of lungs before and after smoking depicting lung cancer and emphysema. I also have a display of preserved lung tissue showing a healthy lung along side an emphysematous lung of a 20 year smoker.
Needless to say, the kids were very clear by the end of class that tobacco products are legal to use for an adult, but are not a healthy choice in any way shape or form.
6th Grade – Alcohol
The first question I asked was how many kids knew that alcohol was a drug. Many of the kids never think of alcohol as a drug because we always use the phrase “drugs and alcohol”. I also asked the kids how many of them had ever seen either of their parents drinking alcohol at least once. Every time I ask that question 95-100% of the class raise their hands. The fact is that most adults that the kids interact with have at least a little experience with alcohol. It is every adult’s duty to make sure they are drinking responsibly (especially in front of their kids), but there’s also no need for a kid to be worried every time they see their mom or dad have a glass of wine, beer or a cocktail.
Next, I told them that alcohol is in the category of drugs called “depressants” and explained how it differs from the drugs we talked about earlier (THC, which is a hallucinogen, and caffeine, which is a stimulant). Then we talked about the types of alcohol that people drink: beer, wine and hard liquor. Serving sizes and potency may vary among the different types of alcohol, but overindulging in any type of alcohol can lead to severe consequences.
I asked the kids if they had ever seen someone that was intoxicated, and then we read through a worksheet about the effects of alcohol on balance, vision, speech, reaction time, and decision making.
We also talked about the types of laws people break that are related to alcohol. Drinking in public or drinking while driving might get someone a ticket, but being intoxicated in public or while driving a car will land them in jail. I also shared some relevant stories from my time working on patrol.
The kids had a lot of questions regarding their own experiences, so I tried to answer them all. I finished by talking about the different circumstances in which adults may drink and compared them to the generally more dangerous and irresponsible contexts in which teenagers drink. Most adults drink in a perfectly responsible fashion, but some adults ruin their lives with alcohol. However, when underage people drink (usually in secret and/or away from the prying eyes of adults) it is almost exclusively a dangerous situation that leads to bad consequences.
7th Grade – Decision Making
In the 7th/8th grade we talked more about decision making. First, I handed out a sheet with some pointers on making good decisions. I didn’t make this stuff up myself; this wisdom goes all the way back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle (see picture).
After that, the kids broke up into groups and played a game using a sheet of scenarios. There are 12 situations for them to discuss. The kids take turns reading the scenarios, and then they reveal their answers Rock, Paper, Scissors style with the Yes, No and Maybe cards. Some of the themes and topics we covered include:
- You have a chance to cheat; what do you do?
- A friend tells you a secret; do you tell?
- You find a wallet with money and an ID; do you try to return it?
- Your friend asks you to help them shoplift; do you do it?
- You hear a rumor that your boyfriend/girlfriend is cheating on you. Do you break up with them?
- You find a vape device in your brother’s room; do you tell?
The kids really got into it, and we finished the class by talking about some of the scenarios as a group. I emphasized that our decisions shape who we are and how others see us; I want the kids to understand that having integrity and doing the right thing is a habit that needs to be ingrained just like brushing your teeth and eating healthy.
Kids this age have a good handle on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to these types of decisions. However, kids that age (and sometimes adults too) would rather come up with elaborate reasons to justify doing what’s wrong instead of just keeping it simple and doing what’s right.